Can You Identify the Classic Noir Film from One Image?


By: William J. Wright

7 Min Quiz

Image: Paramount Pictures

About This Quiz

With visual elements drawn from German Expressionism, a fatalistic point of view and plots from the greatest hardboiled crime writers of the 1930s and 1940s, film noir is a cinematic style that transcends genre. Literally translated as "black film," the term film noir was coined by French film critic Nino Frank in 1946 to describe the bleak crime dramas that poured out of Hollywood in the years immediately following the Second World War. However, the appellation was rarely used by contemporary critics and only gained prominence as a subject of study retrospectively with the rise of the French New Wave. 

More of an artistic movement within the genre of crime films than a genre in itself, film noir is characterized by a pessimistic worldview in which bad things happen to good people, often for no reason at all. Women are portrayed as femme fatales; men act purely out of their most base desires for sex, money or both. Traditional heroes are rare and nearly always jaded and cynical. Visually, a classic film noir must be shot in high-contrast black and white, mostly at night and with highly stylized, canted camerawork. 

The films you'll find in this quiz are from the classic era of noir film from around 1944 to the late 1950s. No "neo-noir" works of later decades like "Chinatown" have been included. In keeping with the strictest definition, all the films here are in black and white.

Now, it's time to throw back a stiff drink because that's not just any blonde knocking at your office door. It's a classic noir film challenge. Are you up to it?

The bird is the word in this 1941 Humphrey Bogart crime thriller. Can you ID this film?

Considered by film historians to be the first-ever film noir, "The Maltese Falcon," based on a 1930 novel by celebrated crime writer Dashiell Hammett, stars Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade. Spade is drawn into a world of intrigue and murder centering on a bejeweled falcon statue.


Can you name this noir classic starring Fred MacMurray as an insurance agent who gets roped into a murderous scheme?

A prime example of noir style, Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" stars Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff who's seduced into a murder plot to help a conniving wife collect on a double indemnity policy. Barbara Stanwyck was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as the villainous Phyllis Dietrichson.


Billy Wilder caused a stir among the Hollywood elite with this 1950 film starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson. Can you name it?

Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" stars Gloria Swanson as washed-up silent film star Norma Desmond. Plotting a comeback, the delusional Desmond hires failed writer Joe Gillis (William Holden) to work on her dream project. Gillis finds himself pulled into a world of madness and murder.


Joan Crawford is a mother embroiled in blackmail and murder in this 1945 film. Can you name it?

Based on a novel by hardboiled crime writer James M. Cain, "Mildred Pierce" stars Joan Crawford as a divorced mother of two who becomes a successful restaurant owner. When her first husband is murdered, her life is turned upside down through the machinations of her spoiled daughter Veda (Ann Blyth).


Private eye Philip Marlowe is hired to investigate the gambling debts of a general's daughter but finds there's much more to the case in this 1946 film. Can you name it?

Based on Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel, "The Big Sleep," established Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall as an on-screen power couple. Completed in 1945 and directed by Howard Hawks, much of the film was reshot to take advantage of the duo's chemistry and the public's fascination with them.


A cheating gambler reunites with an old flame who just happens to be his boss' wife in this 1946 film. Can you ID this movie?

Rita Hayworth knocked audiences dead in her star-making role as the ultimate femme fatale in this 1946 film from director Charles Vidor. Noted for its lush (a rare adjective for film noir) cinematography and Hayworth's stunning wardrobe, "Gilda" is a remarkable and rare big-budget film noir.


Can you name this British film noir set in post-war Vienna starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles?

Joseph Cotten stars as Holly Martins, a Western writer, who travels to Austria after the Second World War to visit his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). When Lime is apparently killed before Martins' arrival, the author is drawn into a dark world of conspiracy and international intrigue.


Can you name this 1944 movie in which a detective falls in love with the dead woman whose murder he's investigating?

Dana Andrews stars as Mark McPherson, a detective investigating the murder of ad executive Laura Hunt, played by Gene Tierney, in 1944's "Laura." As McPherson becomes obsessed with the case, he finds himself falling for the (presumably) dead woman. However, nothing is as it seems.


This 1950 crime film features Marilyn Monroe in a small but important early role. Can you name it?

Academy Award-winning filmmaker John Huston directed this 1950 film noir starring Sterling Hayden, James Whitmore and Jean Hagan. Hayden plays an ex-con who plans a million-dollar jewel heist. Recruiting a team of crooks for the job, Hayden's scheme falls apart as the gang succumbs to greed.


A mysterious box holds a deadly secret in this 1955 film. Can you name this Cold War thriller?

Based on Mickey Spillane's novel, "Kiss Me Deadly" stars Ralph Meeker as private investigator Mike Hammer. The death of a beautiful hitchhiker puts Hammer on the trail of a mysterious box that contains a deadly secret. Quentin Tarantino paid homage to the film with the famous suitcase in "Pulp Fiction."


An innocent man's wife turns up dead after he spends an evening with a mysterious woman in an unusual hat. Can you ID this film noir from 1944?

"The Phantom Lady" was the first of a string of successful films noir directed by Robert Siodmak. Starring supreme femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck as the eponymous lady and Alan Curtis as her hapless prey, "The Phantom Lady" was produced by Joan Harrison, one of Hollywood's first female producers.


Can you name the film in which a phony fortune teller discovers he's been cursed with real powers of precognition?

This 1948 film noir stars Edward G. Robinson as a fake fortune teller in a New Orleans nightclub. Finding himself imbued with real psychic powers, he discovers that the gift of precognition is actually a curse when all his visions are of death.


Barbara Stanwyck never should have picked up the phone in this film noir thriller. Can you name it?

Barbara Stanwyck turns in another outstanding noir performance in "Sorry, Wrong Number." Adapted from an episode of the "Suspense" radio program, the film version greatly expands the story's concept of a bedridden woman overhearing a murder plot.


Can you name the thriller in which two men on a fishing trip to Mexico pick up a hitchhiking psychopathic killer?

Actress-turned-director Ida Lupino helmed this film noir based in part on spree killer Billy Cook who killed 22 people on a cross-country rampage in the early 1950s. An iconoclast and perfectionist, Lupino was the first woman to direct a film noir and a pioneering voice for women in cinema.


Can you name this 1950 thriller about a married couple on a crime spree?

1950's "Gun Crazy" stars John Dall as a reformed juvenile delinquent turned military marksman who falls in love with a beautiful sideshow shootist played by Peggy Cummins. When the cash runs out, Cummins coerces Dall into a life of crime. "Gun Crazy" was written by a blacklisted Dalton Trumbo.


Robert Mitchum stars as the owner of a small-town gas station whose shady past comes back to haunt him in this movie from 1947. Can you identify this classic film noir?

Directed by "The Cat People's" Jacques Tourneur, film scholars cite "Out of the Past" as a prime example of noir style. Starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas, "Out of the Past" ticks off all the boxes for a superb film noir with its complex plot, chiaroscuro lighting and bleak tone.


A down-on-his-luck piano player makes a fateful decision to hitchhike across the country to marry his singer girlfriend in this 1945 B-movie thriller. Can you name it?

Edward G. Ulmer, also known for his horror films 'The Black Cat" and "The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll," directed this poverty row thriller about a hitchhiker who assumes the identity of a dead bookie after a freak accident. Largely unappreciated on its release, it's since become a noir fan favorite.


Can you name this film noir directed by and starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth?

Noir staples Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth star in the 1946 thriller "The Lady Shanghai." Directed by Welles, the celebrated filmmaker also stars as an Irish sailor who's drawn into a plot to murder an attorney. Welles and Hayworth were married at the time of the production but divorced soon after.


This classic film noir is based in part on a 1927 story by Ernest Hemingway. Can you ID it?

When a pair of hitmen murder a man known as "the Swede," life insurance investigator Jim Reardon pieces together the dead man's life in an effort to find a beneficiary. He uncovers a sordid web of corruption and crime in which "the Swede" has played the fall guy.


This film noir from 1948 was the first film from Nicholas Ray who would direct "Rebel Without a Cause" in 1955. Can you identify this movie?

A prototype for the classic "love on the run" film trope, "They Live By Night" is a rare film noir in which romance isn't a road to ruin. Remade in 1974 as "Thieves Like Us," it stars Farley Granger as a wrongly-accused prison escapee who gets involved with bank robbers to fund a legal defense.


Can you name this classic film noir that was remade in 1981 with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson?

In spite of its intriguing title, 1946's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" has nothing to do with the mail. Based on James M. Cain's 1934 novel of the same name, the film tells the story of a drifter (John Garfield) who has an affair with his employer's frustrated wife (Lana Turner).


Alan Ladd is a Navy pilot who returns from the war to find his wife is having an affair with a nightclub owner in this 1946 film. Can you name it?

Mystery writer Raymond Chandler's script for "The Blue Dahlia" was a work in progress well into the film's production. Facing star Alan Ladd's imminent induction into the Army and the Navy's disapproval of elements of the story, Chandler completed the screenplay under much duress.


Edward G. Robinson is drawn into a an art scam by a beautiful grifter and her boyfriend in this 1945 film. Can you name it?

Directed by Fritz Lang, 1945's "Scarlet Street" is a remake of Jean Renoir's 1931 film "La Chienne." Edward G. Robinson stars as an amatuer artist who becomes enamored with a younger woman. Drawn into a complex plot that (naturally) ends in a murder, Robinson avoids jail, but pays a heavy price.


Can you name this film noir directed by the filmmaker who gave us the worst movie of all time?

Edward D. Wood Jr., infamous for 1959's "Plan 9 From Outer Space," brought his trademark slapdash style to film noir with "Jail Bait." Penned by Alex Gordon, who wrote Wood's "Bride of the Monster," "Jail Bait" is possibly Wood's best film which still doesn't make it very good.


Can you name this McCarthy-era film noir that exploited the Red Scare of the 1950s?

A fictionalized account of the exploits of FBI informant Matt Cvetic, "I Was a Communist For the FBI" stars Frank Lovejoy as a steel worker who infiltrates the Communist Party as an FBI informant. The film was based on articles the real Cvetic wrote for "The Saturday Evening Post."


Gregory Peck is an amnesiac posing as a murdered doctor in this 1945 thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. Can you identify this film noir?

Hitchcock's 1945 thriller "Spellbound" stars Gregory Peck as an amnesiac imposter who attempts to replace a man he may have murdered as the director of a mental hospital. Featuring a celebrated dream sequenced designed by surrealist Salvador Dali, "Spellbound" is a film noir dive into the psyche.


Can you name this classic film noir directed by the filmmaker who gave us "Dr. Strangelove"?

"The Killing" from 1956 was filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's fourth feature film and his second foray into the film noir genre — his first was 1955's "Killer's Kiss." Sterling Hayden stars as a professional crook who gathers a gang for one last score before he goes legit.


Can you name this 1956 thriller that takes place on train from Chicago to Los Angeles?

A triumph of writing and direction over budget, "Narrow Margin" is a brilliant B movie. Starring Charles McGraw as a detective assigned to escort a crime lord's widow from Chicago to Los Angeles, it was a critical and box office favorite. "Narrow Margin" was remade by director Peter Hyams in 1990.


A con aids in an investigation of a psychopathic murderer when he's offered a chance to see his children in this 1947 film. Can you identify this movie?

Richard Widmark sizzles in his first film role as murderer Tommy Udo in this 1947 thriller from director Henry Hathaway. Co-starring Victor Mature as convict Nick Blanco out for revenge against his old crime partners, this tense drama was nominated for two Academy Awards.


Can you name this 1948 film noir that marked the end of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's cinematic partnership?

Beloved onscreen duo and film noir fixtures Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall appeared together for the fourth and final time in 1948's "Key Largo." Based on a successful 1939 stage play, "Key Largo," directed by John Huston, features Bogie butting heads with mobsters in the Florida Keys.


Jimmy Stewart is a reporter out to clear the name of a man in prison for murder in this 1948 film. Can you ID this noir drama?

Based on a true story, "Call Northside 777" stars the always engaging Jimmy Stewart as a dogged newspaperman assigned to dig into the 11-year-old murder of a police officer. At first skeptical, Stewart soon uncovers that the wrong man is in prison.


Barbara Stanwyck is on the road to ruin in this 1949 noir drama. Can you name it?

Not to be confused with Barbara Stanwyck's 1934 film "Gambling Lady," "The Lady Gambles" finds the film noir favorite on the skids thanks to a gambling addiction. Told in flashbacks after a savage beating for cheating in a back alley dice game, Stanwyck's long-suffering husband recounts her downfall.


A pickpocket gets more than he bargained for when he unknowingly pilfers a top secret microfilm in this 1953 spy film. Can you identify this movie?

Celebrated directed Samuel Fuller, best known for his war epics such as "The Steel Helmet" directed this 1953 film spy thriller. Richard Widmark stars as Skip McCoy, a small-time crook who lifts a wallet from woman on a subway, neither knowing it contains stolen government secrets.


Can you name this film starring John Garfield as a crooked lawyer who must make a choice between family and riches when he partners with a gangster?

Noted for its brilliant, almost lyrical dialogue, realistic settings and unique cinematography, "Force of Evil" is a masterwork of film noir style. Directed by Aaron Polonsky, writer of the 1947 boxing film "Body and Soul," "Force of Evil" has been cited as influence on the work of Martin Scorsese.


This 1946 movie was both Orson Welles' first film noir and his most financially successful film. Can you name it?

Orson Welles stars as a Nazi war criminal who's assumed a new identity as a teacher in a small New England town in "The Stranger." However, the clock-obsessed fugitive's new life comes crashing down when a Nazi hunter played by Edward G. Robinson arrives to expose his sinister secret.


Dick Powell stars as gumshoe Philip Marlowe in this early film noir based on a Raymond Chandler novel. Can you name it?

Raymond Chandler's hardboiled, hard drinking private eye Philip Marlowe appears onscreen for the first time in this influential 1944 film noir. Based on Chandler's 1940 novel "Farewell, My Lovely," "Murder My Sweet" features Dick Powell as the first of many actors to play the part.


Can you name this 1948 police drama that was made into a TV series in 1958?

"The Naked City" with its deadpan narration and documentary feel was one of the first crime films to focus on police procedure. Starring Barry Fitzgerald and Don Taylor as New York homicide detectives Muldoon and Halloran, "The Naked City" provided the template for the modern cop show.


Can you ID this 1953 movie starring Glenn Ford as a police detective who single-handedly takes on the mob?

Directed by Fritz Lang, "The Big Heat" is a brutal film even by film noir standards. Featuring a sadistic early performance from a young Lee Marvin and a screenplay by former crime reporter Sydney Boehm, this taught tale of corruption and mob violence is among the most intense of its genre.


Can you identify this 1951 thriller in which a bitter former athlete turned cop seduces a radio personality's wife?

After investigating a report of a prowler, embittered cop (Van Heflin) and a lonely wife (Evelyn Keyes) engage in an illicit love affair. Inverting the tried and true femme fatale device, it's the man who is the seducer as Heflin hatches a murderous plot to collect on a life insurance policy.


Orson Welles is a crooked police captain in a Mexican border town in this 1958 film noir. Can you identify this film?

One of the last films of the classic noir period, "Touch of Evil" was also written and directed by Orson Welles. Charlton Heston stars as Mexican drug-enforcement agent Miguel Vargas who uncovers corruption in a border town to the peril of himself and his new wife.


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